Full-Time Appeal on Problematic Sports Gambling

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The trial is recruiting participants over the next three months. Image: Getty

With millions of dollars bet on the AFL and NRL Grand Finals over the past few months, and more recently on the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, sports betting has become one of the biggest Australian industries.

Not everyone walks away a winner, however, with researchers from Flinders University and SA Health currently studying methods to help those whose gambling has gotten out of hand – and more participants are needed.

“With the steady increase in internet gambling via online casinos and sports betting apps, Australians have become the world’s biggest gamblers per capita, with total losses in 2018-2019 of 24.9 billions of dollars,” says the study’s lead researcher, Professor Malcolm Battersby, Head of Psychiatry at Flinders University and a clinician in Mental Health Services at Southern Adelaide Local Health Network.

“Between 1.5 and 4% of the Australian population have a gambling problem and in the case of sports betting this is largely a problem for young adolescent males. The results of a gambling addiction can be devastating, not just financial ruin, but loss of job, family, and in some cases even jail.

Flinders University and SA Health’s Statewide Gambling Therapy Service (SGTS) are now looking for 40 participants across South Australia to receive ‘signal exposure therapy’ for up to 10 sessions via mobile phone or internet, to test its potential as a remote treatment for sports gambling addiction.

A type of behavioral therapy, cue exposure sees participants exposed to cues or stimuli that would normally trigger a compulsion to gamble, while learning new ways to respond and reduce the urge.

Building on a previously successful trial of face-to-face exposure therapy involving six people, led by Dr Ben Riley of SGTS, also a researcher at Flinders University, the trial will assess the impact of treatment on behavior of play and the viability of providing remote treatment.

“Having an effective and proven therapy delivered over the phone or the internet over 6-10 sessions would be a breakthrough in Australia and around the world,” says Dr Riley.

“Over the past 20 years, Flinders and SGTS have developed gambling interventions using cue exposure therapy and cognitive therapy, beginning with slot machine addicts. Over time, we have refined and adapted this model to all forms of gambling, the most recent being sports betting.”

If the trial proves successful, the next step will be to move to a national randomized controlled trial, the gold standard for research trials.

“There are no proven treatments for sports betting internationally, so here we have an opportunity to save lives, careers and families, if the treatments prove effective,” says Professor Battersby.

The goal is to recruit participants over the next three months, who will receive up to 10 sessions (30-60 minutes each) over two months and follow-up for another three months.

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